Mr. Trump, meet Aunt Helen

Gulp! I’m going to confess. No, it’s too embarrassing. Yes, I’m going to.

I’m of Donald Trump’s generation.

It’s like admitting to Europeans that I’m from the country that elected Trump. Until he became president, I was not ashamed of being an American or of being a septuagenarian.

Contrary to the fact that we old people (and I deliberately use the word “old”) defy stereotypes, they persist. Grandpa, who dominates the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table with harangues against gay marriage and immigrants. Aunt Helen, who can’t follow a train of thought and free associates her way through every conversation. Media often portray us as narrow-minded and critical. We’ve lost our mental acuity and wouldn’t know how to run a lemonade stand.

Donald Trump perpetuates such stereotypes.

Most of the people I know, who are my age, are thoughtful. They read books with multi-syllabic words and complex sentences. The books cover topics like climate change and history and politics. Retirees I know take classes at area universities; they don’t let their minds become stagnant. If pensions and mobility allow, they travel with Road Scholar and return home knowledgeable about distant countries. They do not mock other people and cultures. They do not abandon peers forced to live solely on Social Security or on minimum wage, but volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and the local food bank.

Trump’s presidency, on the other hand, contributes to negative images of aging.

And I resent it.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) and Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman.

A restroom war in North Carolina

So North Carolinians are arguing over restrooms again—what might happen if a certain segment of the population used the wrong one. Didn’t we go through this back in the sixties, when white folks fought to keep separate facilities for “colored” and “white?” Now the North Carolina House is distraught over the city of Charlotte’s ordinance expanding anti-discrimination laws for public accommodations. It’s the transgendered population our representatives would have us fear, how their choosing which bathroom they want to use “poses an imminent threat to public safety, ” (Speaker Tim Moore). The issue is worth the $42,000-a-day expense of meeting in special session, he says.

(I’ll avoid references to these elected officials who so boldly favor local control—except, it seems, when a city does something they disapprove of. )

A special session to make Charlotte’s ordinance illegal would supposedly contribute to the safety and well being of women and children. While I certainly appreciate Mr. Moore’s and his colleagues’ concern, let me remind him there are other issues more threatening to our safety. Granted none of them as scintillating as imagined drag queens such as what we see in movies pulling down their pants in front of innocent children and women.

Strengthening gun laws would do more to protect women and children, but would draw far less support. In 2015 there were 53 domestic violence homicides in our state (http://www.nccadv.org/homicides-20150. While mass shootings make headlines, suicides and accidental shootings in homes where there are guns take far more lives.

And what if our representatives announced a commitment to protecting women and children from air and water pollution? Yawns. Which has allowed elected officials to gut the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) http://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2015/04/23/bill-that-would-gut-state-environmental-policy-passes-nc-house-committee.

Keep in mind these are the same people who try to control women’s reproductive rights, who reject climate science, who undermine the quality of our state’s educational system, who voted to allow magistrates to refuse to perform gay marriages if their religious beliefs opposed it.

With national primary races for President so entertaining, few are paying attention to state politics. Which could explain why Tim Moore and his cohorts are talking about transgendered individuals using public restrooms. His efforts though should remind us that statewide elections are as important, if not more important than national ones. Candidates who deserve our support need financial backing and a team of workers. Otherwise restrooms will be the big campaign issue.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

 

 

 

Republican debates: for love of a good fight

My daughter’s adolescence gave me two insights into human behavior: we love a good fight, and in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. Both truths were clearly demonstrated in Wednesday evening’s Republican debate.

During our daughter’s middle school years the family lived in Southern California. Over her lunch hour, when gangs were sure to get into fights, she’d follow them around. She didn’t want to miss the excitement.

Americans like the drama of a good fight. From John Wayne westerns and Audie Murphy war stories to today’s crime shows and intergalactic battles, we find pleasure in watching the survival of the fittest. We bet on cock fights, boxing matches, football games.

Donald Trump’s no fool. Right away he set the campaign tone. Like the school yard bully he strutted around, tossing out insults. We’ve followed him, itching to see who’ll take him on. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina seem up to the challenge. Interestingly, Ben Carson’s contrasting calm demeanor seems to be serving him well. Jeb Bush’s isn’t.

Sadly the media have been lured into the love of fight. Wednesday night Cruz rightly criticized the inane nature of the questions. He pointed out that the Democratic debate was different, attributing differences to the media giving the Democrats an easy ride. No, the CNN moderators were professionals. Rather than encourage a fight, they asked policy questions allowing candidates to show their differences. It was a debate for grown-ups. Republicans deserve the same kind of forum.

This brings me to my second observation about human behavior: in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. When our daughter knew she was in trouble, she’d attack us first: “How dare you wake up my friends’ parents in the middle of the night to ask if I was there.” “You are the worst parents…”

Wednesday, as soon as Cruz blamed “the mainstream media,” other candidates joined in, referring to “the liberal media.” This worked for Republicans in George W. Bush’s campaign. Cowed by accusations, journalists quit asking the difficult questions. This, in turn, has led many liberals to conclude that the press is conservative.

I’m not suggesting that Republicans bear sole responsibility for the direction their debates have taken. Rather that the public’s lust for blood and our tendency toward offensive posturing have brought us to this point. As far as the media is concerned, we’re getting what we want.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

Why the November election is important for young women, part 2

You’ve just changed jobs, and this one’s really demanding. You recently moved. Maybe you struggle just to get by financially: work, sleep, work, maybe socialize on weekends. A romantic breakup has you tied up emotionally. In any of these scenarios you feel too stressed out to give much thought to voting in November. And you certainly don’t want to cast an uninformed ballot.

But the November, 2014, elections are especially important to women. While we won’t be electing a President, we will elect women and men whose decisions impact our daily life.

Here are suggestions on how you can quickly find out which candidates best represent you:

1) Choose one or two issues that are most important to you: the environment, education, reproductive rights, income inequality, the national debt, immigration, racial justice, gay rights, taxes, health. There may be another issue that personally affects you.

2) Find out who’s running for office. You’ll need to know what district you’re in. votesmart.org is a helpful site, or Google your state’s name and “voting districts.”

Yes, there are a lot of positions to be filled, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I suggest you pay particular attention to just five office holders: at the federal level, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from your district; in your state government, governor, your state senator, and your state representative. Your U.S. Senator has a six-year term so may not be running this year. Your governor might not be running either. In this case you only need to learn about candidates for three or four positions.

3) Now begin matching the issues you’re concerned about to the person. Again, votesmart.org is a helpful site, though it does seem to give the person currently holding the office more prominence. Also, it can be a little confusing in that it identifies individuals who already lost in primary elections.

4) Go to candidates’ websites. Check them out in social media, Facebook in particular.

5) Ask someone whose opinion you value who they’re voting for and why. Then go to the candidates’ websites to make sure their stance on issues agrees with yours.

Only a hundred years ago women fought hard for the right to vote. Some went to jail, many were publicly humiliated. (My grandmother was among the first generation of women to cast a ballot.) When they did finally get the right, many relied on their husband to tell them who to vote for.

As a woman today, you have more education and experience “out in the world.” You can decide for yourself who supports your values, what candidates will work to ensure the best future for you, your children, our country, and our world.

Don’t let a few individuals determine the future for you.

Republicans, please give us reasoned information.

“Have you always had such strong political opinions?” a new friend asked. Not until the last presidential election, when Republican candidates started opening their mouths. Like Herman Cain, with his, “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan…” And Rick Santorum’s “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” Need I mention Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s remarks?

Now, in getting ready for the next election, the GOP is again insulting the electorate’s intelligence.

When I taught middle school, most language arts curricula included a unit on propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc. If a recent Op-Ed piece by Buncombe County GOP chairman, Henry Mitchell, is any example (“King Obama is above the law,” Asheville Citizen Times, Mar. 28), it appears that Republicans are counting on readers having forgotten those lessons. Mitchell resorts to the following:

Namecalling: “King Obama,” he writes; “ultra-liberal N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan,” “cowardly media” and “the Obama/Hagan/Asheville ultra-liberal progressive political machine” (so many words strung together in hopes that one might contaminate the others).

Repetition: The Republican talking points against Obamacare have been repeated so often that polls show uninformed citizens accepting the criticisms as fact.

Showing part of the picture: (See Repetition, above.) Mitchell says nothing about North Carolina’s Republican legislators and Republican governor sabotaging Obamacare at every turn, or about the national GOP’s refusal to help develop a viable health system. He does not mention that 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans are now covered through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Demonizing the enemy: In using the term King Obama and referring to “stunning law-breaking power abuse” Mitchell loyally follows Republican talking points about an imperial presidency. Again he fails to mention the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, which have left Obama with no choice but to use the power the law allows.

Creating false dichotomies: He would have us believe that Obama does not value the Constitution while Republicans, of course, do.

Citizens deserve more than propaganda and emotional tirades. We deserve well reasoned arguments about real issues. But we also have responsibilities. We must wean ourselves from relying on sound bytes and become better informed about the issues. We must do the hard work of critical thinking.

 

Reunions, politics, and a liberal arts education, OR how I came to respect Republican classmates

I didn’t particularly want to attend the fifty-year reunion of my college class. I’d have to compete with truckers for an eight-by-fifteen foot space on Interstate 81. I would miss several mornings of doing the Chicago Tribune Sudoku while eating my bran cereal. Most distasteful of all, I’d have to spend thirty-six hours with Republicans.

I reasoned that those who live near an institution are more likely to attend events such as a reunion. Since Bridgewater College is located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, far from liberal urban centers of the state, the majority of those in attendance would probably be Republicans. Could I help maintain the peace by not talking about politics? Sometimes I can’t help myself.

At issue was my identity, the woman I’ve become in these intervening years, the things I care about. I care about the poor having food, heat in the winter, medical resources. I care about water safety, air safety, product safety, gun safety. I care about the rights of LGBTQ members of our society. These concerns, often labeled liberal values, are at the core of who I’ve become. I doubted I could suppress my political leanings for a whole weekend.

But I attended the event. I mostly held my tongue, asked people about their vocations, how many kids and grandkids they have, things like that. I listened for clues indicating openness to issues I consider important. Then I’d say something like, “I blog some, mostly political, sort of on the liberal side.” So it was that in small clusters we touched on topics of dissension but tread gently, respectfully.

The class of 1963 turned out to be a reasonable group.

I have a few clues as to why. We received a liberal arts education; that is, no matter our major, we were required to study science, math, literature, the social sciences, religion, and history. Many of us took electives in art and music. A paper in nearly every course and debates about issues in the various fields forced us to think critically. In his reunion profile statement one former student mentioned a philosophy teacher who “influenced my current and strong Socratic thinking.” We also learned to respect others’ opinions.

My classmates have traveled widely: Thailand, Japan, Peru, European countries. Perhaps that too explains the reasonable nature of our conversations: an openness that accompanies viewing the rich histories of other lands, witnessing firsthand how people of other cultures thrive and/or struggle.

I left the reunion trusting that members of the class of ’63—some conservative, some liberal in their views—have brought critical thinking skills they learned in college to the political process. Yes, we are reasonable people who have reached different conclusions.

But then we didn’t try to solve any of the country’s problems.

Voucher plans vs. Medicare: one more decision

English: image edited to hide card's owner nam...

English: image edited to hide card’s owner name. author: Arturo Portilla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I search the toilet paper aisle. One ply or two? Scented? How do costs compare? On to the grocery’s cracker aisle. Whole wheat? Herb flavored? I spend five minutes studying the nutritional information on the boxes. These are simple choices compared to buying a cell phone and computer, or deciding how to invest my pension. In fact, modern living demands so many decisions that I sometimes throw up my hands in frustration, postpone making them, and miss the deadline.

When my husband and I went on Medicare, we spent hours researching supplemental health insurance companies. Next we studied options for Medicare, Plan D. Since we enrolled in Plan D, the co-pay has increased drastically, and when my medication needs changed, the company wouldn’t cover much of the new prescription’s cost. So we’re again on the internet researching our options.

Now Republicans want to replace Medicare with a voucher plan. The G.O.P. platform says it wants to “empower millions of seniors to control their personal health care decisions.” Hey, Republicans, seniors find empowerment through freedom from fear that an illness or injury will wipe out our savings. We find empowerment when we have enough financial security to engage in activities that energize us. Those activities include volunteering in our communities’ schools, hospitals, shelters, and churches.

A voucher plan doesn’t empower America’s senior citizens as much as it forces us to spend precious time making yet one more complicated decision. Stories abound of unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of vulnerable seniors. TV ads, mailings, and phone calls will promise us anything to get our business. (At the same time Romney plans to eliminate the Consumer Protection Agency.) What if I choose an insurer that quits financing the care I need? I’m left feeling—certainly not empowered.

Under a voucher system wealthy individuals can hire professionals to study the options, pay lawyers to apply pressure if an insurer doesn’t come through. But most Americans have neither the time nor skills for weeding through contracts where one whereas follows another. I’ve been told that changes in Medicare won’t affect me. As if I’m so self-centered that I don’t care how my adult children will fare when they’re my age.

When extensive research is necessary and papers are to be signed in triplicate, when terms of agreement are written in legalese, thanks, Mr. Romney, but having the choice does not leave me feeling empowered.

 

 

Politics and Clotheslines

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry st...

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry starch manufactured by Gilbert S. Graves in Buffalo, New York, showing two women hanging laundry on a clothesline. 1 print : lithograph, color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Line-drying your clothes seems to have become a political issue. I’ve concluded this because 1) The Huffington Post, a liberal website, reposted a blog with instructions for using a clothesline; 2) I, a liberal Democrat, hang my laundry outside; and 3) Were she alive, my mother, who was a Republican, would probably refuse to do the same.

So why is The Huffington Post promoting clotheslines? Maybe male liberals are more likely to share household responsibilities, and, being untrained in traditional women’s work, need guidance in maneuvering clothespins. Or, if liberal women are spoiled elitists, as some conservatives claim, a reliance on dryers may have stymied the hand-eye coordination essential for hanging up clothes. I tend to believe liberals take climate change seriously and work toward reducing carbon emissions.

Yet I’ll bet that most conservative women—many of them older, with line-drying experience—would, like me, laugh at the idea of someone needing instruction. For we girls used to have no choice but to learn women’s work. I, for one, resented Mom waking me up early every Saturday to do laundry. It didn’t occur to me that, having a job, she too would have preferred sleeping later.

Out in the garage stood our wringer washer alongside two rinse tubs. A woman could easily get a finger caught in the wringer as she transferred clothes from wash to rinse to second rinse. Three lines stretched across our back yard. A fabric clothespin holder was designed to slide along them. I learned from my mother, as she had learned from hers, to shake clothes out, hang shirts by their tails, ration clothes pins by using one to join two items. On cold days further north, I hear, clothes would be frozen when they were taken off the line.

For good reason Mom came to consider washers and dryers real progress. She never complained about the community she lived in not allowing residents to have clotheslines, a not uncommon rule these days. But how, being opposed to government regulations, could she tolerate such restrictions? Me, I demand the freedom to hang up my clothes.

I don’t fault my mother for having been a Republican. But if she were alive, I’d remind her of how washing machines and fabric have improved and urge her to line-dry her laundry. For the sake of the planet. Nevertheless, for reasons unrelated to politics, she‘d probably say, “Been there, done that.”

 

Civility in politics: Let’s keep Archie Bunker out.

Before Archie Bunker came along we Americans pretty much kept bigoted thoughts to ourselves. But in 1971 he entered our living rooms, and for twelve years viewers laughed at his diatribes against blacks, women, and foreigners. Were he on TV today he would surely vent about our mixed-race President and Mexicans illegally crossing the border. He was a man who had an opinion about everything, with little regard for the facts.

Publicity photo from the television program Al...

Publicity photo from the television program All in the Family. Pictured are Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) and Michael Evans (Lionel Jefferson). In this episode, Archie visits a local blood bank to donate and meets his neighbor, Lionel Jefferson, who is also there to donate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As negative and blustering as Archie was, the show’s mostly white audience came to love him. Maybe that was because, like many of us, outside his home he had little power or influence. In the 1970s women and blacks were challenging white male privilege. A new generation, represented by Archie’s son-in-law, was upsetting the old codes of morality. Archie wanted the world to be like the one he’d grown up in. Many white Americans felt the same way.

Now we hear of politicians who are admired because they “tell it like it is,” “say what needs to be said.” Sometimes, like when they support broad generalizations with pseudo-facts, they sound a lot like Archie. My concern, however, is not that they sound like him but that they’re using fear and a sense of powerlessness to turn decent hard-working Americans into clones of Archie Bunker.

This is an effective approach for reaching people like me, that is older white folks. The rapidly changing technology and shifting morals leave many of us feeling out of the American mainstream. Republicans have long exploited this discomfort and stoked the fires of fear—fear of gays, immigrants, blacks, Muslims. Especially fear of government, how big it is, how powerless the individual is by comparison. Yes, we potential Archie Bunkers stand before them, frightened of a future bearing little resemblance to the world we grew up in.

Instead of those who appeal to the Archie Bunker in us, we need leaders who nurture our noblest qualities: compassion, generosity, an openness to new ideas. Leaders who can unite young and old, black and white, foreign born and native born.

So that our decency might prevail.

Who’s a Real Christian, Who’s Not

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he i...

Image via Wikipedia

With a scripture to support each belief, Daddy denounced just about every form of fun there is: dancing, drinking alcoholic beverages, playing cards. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick or nail polish, and when the time came for me to marry I was to be submissive to my husband. African-Americans, Daddy believed, were inferior because they were descendants of Ham, who’d been cursed by God. Homosexuals were headed for Hell.

An adult now, I play cards every chance I get; I wear jeans, lipstick, and nail polish, have an occasional glass of wine. No one who knows me would say I’m submissive to my husband. I consider African-Americans, gays, and lesbians children of God and worthy of every right that I have (including marriage).

If he were alive, Daddy would denounce me as a non-Christian.  And he’d be wrong. Oh, I don’t use salvation language, but I try to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus: loving my neighbor as myself, caring for the poor, the imprisoned. I am opposed to war and honor the beautiful world God created. I respect the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. For sure I don’t measure up to Jesus’ teachings, but I consider myself a Christian nonetheless.

So when I hear voices in the Republican Party question whether President Obama or Mitt Romney is a Christian, I take it personally. Sure, Franklin Graham said in Tuesday morning’s interview on MSNBC that he cannot judge what’s in a person’s heart, and if Obama says he’s a Christian… But then Graham went on to manipulate the audience to do the judging for him—by saying  Muslims consider Obama one of them, and that Obama only started going to church because someone said he’d be more effective as a community organizer if he did. (Though Obama has said that by going to church he became a man of faith.) Santorum has accused the President’s environmental policies of being the result of a phony theology.

Republicans throw around the word elite a lot these days, accusing the President and Democrats of thinking they know best what’s good for the country. More frightening to me is the religious elite who are convinced they are qualified to decide what the rest of us should believe. Everything else is heresy.

So here we are: Inquisition 2012.

And yes, Daddy, I am a Christian.